End of Term Report 18/19 - Goalkeepers
Monday, 20th May 2019 08:31 by Clive Whittingham
LFW’s annual run down of each individual player’s performance across the season starts with a look at goalkeepers Matt Ingram and Joe Lumley.
1 - Matt Ingram D
This is going to be less a review, more an excruciating intrusion into private grief. The goalkeeping situation at Loftus Road was meant to be the flagship of what the ‘new QPR’ was trying to achieve. Get Alex Smithies reasonably cheaply from Huddersfield, build him into one of the division’s best goalkeepers, meanwhile get the top stopper from League Two to train up behind him so that when Smithies inevitably moves to the Premier League for a small fortune there’s a ready made replacement to come in, with a slew of talented youth team keepers behind him as well. Best laid plans and all that.
We could probably argue about whether we got fair money from Cardiff for Smithies for as long as it takes him to make a league start for them, but what is certain is the attempt to integrate Ingram into the first team as his replacement turned into a disaster for the defence and a trauma for the player. There are two themes that will recur in these reviews, the first of which is bad luck. Ingram made an absolutely incredible save to deny Leon Clarke in the first home game with Sheff Utd, but had already been beaten by an offside Billy Sharp goal and subsequently lost to one of several lousy Scott Duncan penalty decisions over the season. With proper refereeing a 1-0 home win could have been secured right off the bat, and everybody would have been talking about the astonishing save that got us there.
But you couldn’t ever say he looked happy, nor did he inspire confidence in those around him. Too quiet, compared to what we had before, and what we’ve had since. At West Brom he was, like the rest of the team, all over the place. Ridiculous decision making cost him a penalty concession in that debacle and he should have saved the first Bristol City goal in another defeat on the Tuesday. Four games into his first season as QPR number one and he’d lost four times, conceding 13 goals in he process. He was done, dropped by the end of August. When he did come back in for an FA Cup game against Leeds, he erred horribly for their first goal, spilling a simple free kick, although he did recover to make several crucial saves in the second half.
A second theme we’ll return to with a few players, though, is mismanagement. Ingram may well not be good enough for this level – evidence is starting to suggest that, though he’s played precious few games – but let’s look at what he had to deal with last summer. This was to be his first ever season as a number one keeper at this level, he’d never played regular Championship football before. He was replacing an incredibly popular, supremely talented, much more experienced goalkeeper who’d excelled in the previous seasons. He was doing it behind a team that had shipped 70 goals the year before, even with said brilliant goalkeeper between the sticks and Nedum Onuoha and Jack Robinson at the back. Even Alex Smithies couldn’t keep clean sheets behind this team, and the defence was significantly weakened over the summer – you try keeping goal behind that back four, see how you get on. He was also being asked to do so after, literally, years of inaction. This is never good for keepers – even Smithies looked ropey when he first came into the side against Blackburn and Forest after a period of playing second string to Rob Green. It takes a while to find form, angles, rhythm – Ingram had none of that.
So it was a tough ask, the tallest order since Peter Crouch went back for thirds on breakfast pancakes, and QPR should have done everything they could to make it easier for him. Instead, they added to the burden by changing the style of play to a total-football, pass out from the back style that suited neither Ingram nor any of the players in front of him. He couldn’t do it, Leistner and Lynch couldn’t do it, and Scowen couldn’t do it. Which is more, that was painfully obvious from very early in the summer. Watching the players in pre-season training in July, they couldn’t even do it with any degree of success at Harlington with no opposition. Simply running a pattern of play routine from their own goal kick to the far end of the field, with nobody trying to tackle them, they all struggled with it. And again in the friendly at AFC Wimbledon. Credit to McClaren for not being so stubborn that he stuck with it beyond that nightmare August, but what was he thinking even starting the season like that? It hung Ingram out to dry, and I doubt we’ll see much more of him in a QPR shirt.
13 - Joe Lumley B
All of which paved the way for Joe Lumley to step up to first choice as August turned into September, rewarded for a long apprenticeship that included nine clean sheets in 17 loan appearances for Blackpool and eight in 19 for Bristol Rovers. That statistical porn continued, with four clean sheets and no defeats in his first five matches straight after that nightmare Ingram start, and 16 in 46 appearances overall in all comps – the fourth best record in the entire division, despite Rangers shipping in excess of 70 goals for the second consecutive season.
He’s an odd one to assess. At 24, he’s certainly not a kid, even for a goalkeeper – Joe Hart had already peaked and was on his way back down by this point. But it is true that keepers are usually at their best in their late 20s or early 30s, and Lumley is still only in double digits for career appearances (96). This was his first full season as a number one anywhere, let alone in the Championship, and he faced all the challenges that we’ve outlined in Ingram’s mitigation above – albeit, with a more pragmatic style of play in place by the time he came into the team. When he tried the playing it out from the back, it turned out little better than it had for Ingram – a disastrous first half hour in a 4-1 home defeat to Preston in January was artery hardening, particularly a farcical first goal concocted by him and Josh Scowen.
He’s clearly more confident, and more communicative, than Ingram. You can hear him all over the park. He made big saves, and enjoyed the luck that deserted his predecessor, in his first game at home to Wigan which at least got us up and running. His performance in a Christmas game with struggling Reading, which a tired Rangers took lightly and should have lost, was superb and won us a point we didn’t deserve. The game after was the one where he got booted in the face up at Villa and never really seemed to be the same again after that – 6, 6, 7, 7, 8 leading into the Villa game, 6, 4, 5, 5, 6, 4, 5 coming out of it. But he’s got plenty about him. In amongst the end of season horrors, he was magnificent in the crucial home win against Leeds, making a triple save from Patrick Bamford that defied science and logic. He made a string of saves at Brentford, despite the 3-0 defeat.
I don’t buy the criticism of his kicking either. QPR kick wide to the right, under instruction, because Pawel Wszolek and Darnell Furlong are more likely to win headers over there than anybody else anywhere else on the pitch. When we play short we get punished and when we go long we don’t have a striker who can do anything other than flick it straight back to the opponent in a dangerous area. So he is right (and doing as he’s told) to go that way more often than not, and it is just an inevitable consequence of kicking towards the wing that the ball goes out of play quite often when he does.
But nobody can deny there were too many mistakes leading to goals. Even when playing well, a free kick up at Bolton should have been routine and Neal Maupay should never have been allowed a rebound at home to Brentford. Towards the end there were some calamities, away at Norwich and Derby in particular. I know we were spoilt with Smithies’ penalty record, but QPR faced more spot kicks than any other team in the league last year (12) and it wasn’t until Forestieri sportingly popped one over the bar on the final day that one wasn’t scored. Mostly, he’s not even close but twice, against Brentford and Blackburn, he went the right way, got a thick hand to the ball, and let it in anyway. That needs to improve.
I also wasn’t overly impressed with several stories about interest from Bristol City and other Championship sides doing the clickbait rounds in April either. Pretty obviously agent placed and you can say that’s just a representative doing a job for his client if you like but for me, given how the team, and Lumley himself, were playing at that stage it didn’t do the lad any favours. He can go away relatively content with his first season at this level, posting some good numbers and enjoying some particular highs along the way - I say again, playing in goal behind this defence must be nightmarish - but there’s loads and loads to work on before he starts thinking about that sort of thing. Summer of recharge, big pre-season, massive 2019/20 ahead for him because the excuses about age and inexperience that are currently still valid will start to fade away soon.
Others: QPR have a whole boatload of goalkeepers in the U23 and academy set up, among which Marcin Brzozowski seemed to head the queue while Senny Dieng was out on loan this season. Dieng made 16 appearances on loan for Stevenage in the first half of the season (P16 W7 D1 L8 Conceded 20 Clean Sheets 5). He then joined SPL whipping boys Dundee for the second half where, although his numbers were poor and the team was relegated, he won some good reviews and was highly rated. He was man of the match in a rare 2-1 away win at Hearts, and at home to champions Celtic who only won 1-0 in stoppage time. He finally kept his first clean sheet for them in a 1-0 win at Livingstone on the last day (P18 W3 D3 L12, Con 33 Clea 1). Dieng was offered a new contract at QPR at the end of the season. Myles Bowman was among the scholars released at the end of the season.
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